• James E Aarons DVM

Tsegi Canyon: Yéiitsoh Omen, Ch 29

Native people occupied Navajo Mountain and its environs for thousands of years, as is evidenced by numerous Anasazi ruins spilling across the mesas, canyons and desert floors in the region. While Navajo Mountain is as prominent in Navajo legend as it is in the landscape, the Navajo acknowledge the presence of ghosts of the Ancestral Pueblo, often referred to as the Anasazi. The Navajo view the Anasazi ruins as the home of the Anasazi dead and will go to great lengths to avoid them.

The mythic memory of the Hopi extends back to their time in these cliff dwellings. Clan elders have described the time when their people lived in these sandstone cliffs: [At] a canyon with high, steep walls, in which was a flowing stream . . . they built a large house in the cavernous recess, high up in the canyon wall. They tell of devoting two years to ladder making and cutting and pecking shallow holes up the steep rocky side by which to mount the cavern, and three years more were employed in building the house.

The impressive arch dwarfs the cliff dwelling nestled in the salmon-colored sandstone.

The Tsegi canyon lands spread out in a labyrinth on ledges, pinnacles and alcoves. Created by the same forces that created the other canyons on the Colorado Plateau -- wind, water and uplift -- the deep gouges expose layers of bedrock in all of the magnificent hues of an Arizona sunset. The exposed geology reveals formations spanning from 208 to 144 million years of sedimentary debris. The top salmon-colored layer of Navajo sandstone was formed by ancient sand dunes, crossbedded in a fierce display of nature found in wind-blown slopes of sand. Beneath it lays the lavender Kayenta formation, which is horizontally bedded with layers of siltstone and mudstone. Beneath that the desert is once again revealed in the red Wingate sandstone, which forms sheer vertical crimson cliffs.

The alcoves, used by the Puebloan for building, occur in the layers of Navajo sandstone where erosion and gravity have pulled down great slabs of rock out of the canyon walls. These various layers of rock differ in their resistance to erosion, which has helped to create the canyon seen today. The highly porous Navajo sandstone collects and stores rainwater, but the Kayenta formation below is imperious. This forces the water to flow horizontally, emerging in the canyon in the form of seeps and springs. The alluvium in the canyon bottom then traps this moisture, creating a high water table ideal for the lush forests that once covered the canyon floor.

Last Blog: The Pearl Necklace Next Blog: Navajo National Monument

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